Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dealing with Diagnosis

I want to start this post by thanking everyone who has read my blog in the last week. The outpouring of support I have received after sharing the fact that I am bipolar has been overwhelming. Family, friends, and even acquaintances have reached out to me, and I have felt so loved. 
I know everyone has a unique situation, but if you are struggling with whether or not to share your own diagnosis, I would encourage you to share with even just one person. You don't need write a public Internet post like I did. You might be surprised with the reactions you get - and if someone gives you trouble, I can only advise you to be patient with their lack of understanding.

This week I want to talk about getting a diagnosis, because it can be one of the most critical steps to helping you find balance in your life. I am not a mental health professional, and I am merely sharing my own story. If something you read strikes a chord with you today, I would encourage you to talk to a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. 


I wasn't born with "bipolar" tattooed across my forehead.
There was no special note on my birth certificate.
No extra stamp in my passport.

There weren't even symptoms until a few years ago. 
I had a normal, very happy childhood marked by some moves around Europe and strong friendships. I loved school, was a perfectionist, and liked drama and acting. I enjoyed performing in school plays and writing school newspaper. 
Yes, I hated aspects of middle school, but in that aspect, I believe I was like most tweens.

A religious conversion charmed my entry into high school. I continued to be a high achiever with a large friend group. I was passionate about life and excited about future possibilities. Unfortunately, I was forced to leave my comfort zone as we relocated for the sixth time in my life.

We decided to try online schooling to allow for some continuity in my academic career, but I wilted without adequate socialization. My eating disorder worsened, and I became depressed. The kind of depressed where you can't get out of bed, vacillate between eating everything and eating nothing, and cry constantly.
Consequently, I enrolled in a local school in the middle of the school year.
Although initially things were alright, I had difficultly making friends. The depression I had homeschooling didn't magically lift when I started going to school. I doubt my teachers or fellow students knew anything. When some of them found out that I had been hurting myself to cope, they were shocked and confused. The face I put on at school to avoid attention put extra pressure on me that resulted on crumbling when I got home. I had a very negative reaction with the first medication we tried, and I felt like I was sliding down the rabbit hole. I wrote morose poetry and dark short stories that reflected the pain I felt. Before long, I was back to not functioning. Back to laying in bed. Back to not coping.

I moved back to the States in the spring of 2010 in order to care I needed. The therapist I first met with believed I was bipolar, but the psychiatrist I met with thought that it was probably just situational depression that would end now that I was removed from the "situation."

I'll fast-forward to now, where I have an excellent new team consisting of a great therapist, a talented psychiatrist, and a supportive family. We were able to track my moods in a way that we could see clear patterns. Things didn't get better just by moving to the States. A lot of the same problems moved across the Atlantic with me, but we targeted them and alleviated the ones we could.

I only got my official "bipolar" diagnosis while I was in the hospital this past Christmas.
Now I do have a piece of paper that says "MOOD DISORDER: BIPOLAR" on it.
I can carry it around like a badge, scrapbook it, frame it, burn it.
Though none of those ideas are very helpful.

It may seem after all of that that getting the diagnosis was the tricky part, but what's really tricky is what's ahead. It's what I do with this diagnosis.

While I am bipolar, I am also, most importantly, 
Bipolar disorder explains my mood swings and some of my behaviors and thought processes.
But it does not define me.

I'm still the girl that likes drama and writing, but now I have new interests to add to those.
(and Barbies and PollyPocket have been left at the wayside)
I'm still the perfectionist and high-achiever. I'm still passionate about life, and I want to change the world.

Some days, I cling more closely to my bipolar label than I want to; it's a process developing daily.
Some days, I feel like THIS IS ME.
Other days, I don't want it. I shirk it. I hate it.
But it doesn't change the fact that I am what I am.

Bottom-line: We all have our labels. Even labels that aren't related to mental health affect how we perceive ourselves. Daily, we try to reconcile these labels with our ever-expanding ideas of who were are. 
My hope is that we give those struggling with mental illness the same respect and time to reconcile, and that we give them the support they need to be who they are, diagnosis and all.